No war can be won halfheartedly

Georges Ugeux
5 min readFeb 20, 2023

What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations, wrote Chinese General Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC.

I remember my father-in-law, who was a senior officer in the Belgian Army, talking about the reasons why World War II emerged: the European countries thought they could stop the Third Reich invasion by fighting it halfheartedly.

We have seen some signs of this quasi resignation in the denial by Europe of the evidence provided by the United States that Russia would invade Ukraine. Yet, Putin miscalculated the unanimous rejection of his attack on the country, let alone its resistance.

The non-declaration of war

No country is officially at war with Russia. There has been no declaration of war. NATO is not officially engaged. Most NATO Members, however, are actively providing resources of all kinds to the courageous Ukrainian Armed Forces, with the overwhelming support of their population.

There are many reasons why this legal ambiguity is maintained. Ukraine is not a NATO member. However, an important part of the national military resources are under NATO and its command.

Hiding behind the fiction that none of our countries, mostly American and European, have not declared war reminds me of the fact that it took Pearl Harbor to throw the United States into WWII in December 1941 to make the United States realize that they could no longer stay away from the conflict.

I am not suggesting that countries declare war on Russia. The consequences would be a nuclear war that we all try to avoid. The situation is remarkably similar to 1939 when European countries were in the Phoney War (French: Drôle de guerre; German: Sitzkrieg), an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front.

The imbalance of military troops

As both sides prepare for an imminent confrontation, Ukraine is confronted with a pure demographic imbalance that could lead to a renewed manslaughter by Russia and its war criminal allies, staring with Wagner.

There is therefore only one way to react: use superior military equipment to destroy Russian pockets of military installations and make the use of its troops ineffective. There is no need for that equipment to be operated by Ukrainian personnel only.

There are two reasons for that: by the time Ukrainian troops can operate the equipment, Russia might have won the battle. The second reason is more subtle: we need to be careful not to build Ukraine as a military power that might be under Russian control.

I am not ignorant: Western experts are on the ground and assisting the country strategically and technologically. But it is only fair to compensate the Russian superiority of troops by Ukraine’s superiority of equipment.

Donbas is Ukrainian

Donbas is a region in the south-east of Ukraine that is becoming the epicenter of a potential conflict between Russia and Ukrainian pro-Russia separatists, and the Ukrainian army. It is legally part of Ukraine and separatists and the farcical declaration of a “referendum” to join Russia do not make it legal for Russia and the separatist regions to pretend to be part of Russia. Speaking Russian is not a legal right of nationality. There are plenty of countries that speak several languages without making them part of another country. International law must prevail.

The illusion of distance

One of the reasons why there is the temptation not to put the full force and power of a war is the distance. Not just the geographic distance of a battle outside of our own territories, but the conceptual distance of a war fought through another country, Ukraine.

It did not stop the support of Great Britain on the shores of Europe against the German army. It should not stop our firm belief that this is our own war. We are fighting for righteousness, freedom and to fend off Goliath from attempting to kill David.

In the XXIst century, fighting a war that looks sometimes like World War I in the trenches, to gain territory is a blatant aggression against all moral principles, but also all international treaties. There is no legitimacy whatsoever in this invasion and Russia has outlawed itself.

Should we allow this war to be won by Putin, we all run the risk of contagion and further annexations and conflicts. They are a denial of the Chart of the United Nations where Russia should no longer be able to sit until the conflict ends.

It is not because of the physical and psychological distance that we can refuse to go all the way. There is no place here for the halfhearted because there is no place for the illusions that led to World War II.

This war must be won

There is no alternative but to win this war and reduce the Russian Army to a defense set of troops and once, and forever, make it impossible for the Kremlin to launch annexations as they did for Georgia and Crimea. It is deplorable that President Obama opposed the advice of his associates and let Crimea be annexed by Russia against all legal considerations. His pacifism has been at the origin of the current situation, as he did in Egypt and Syria. Peace is only possible if invasions are made impossible.

Once one enters a war, one must enter with a single-minded objective: win it. In an interesting development, the weakening of Russia on all grounds is acceleration and the war can be won. It is up to the Russians to decide if and when they will recognize the obvious truth: Russia cannot win the war and time is playing against it.

Not being a military expert, I am unable to say how it can be won and what it implies. My only concern is some voices that could give the impression that it can be won halfheartedly. It never worked and it will not work in this case.

In Munich this week, many Western officials and analysts, who say that Mr. Putin is unlikely to enter peace talks in good faith until his military position is significantly weakened. So the question is not if but when and how.

It is the strength and the determination of the allies that will make it happen earlier rather than later. A multi-year conflict is unwinnable, costly and deadly. We have seen enough deaths, rapes and torture as well as destruction in Ukraine to make it absolutely clear to Vladimir Putin: thou shall not win ever this conflict. Enough of your people are currently slaughtered by your unwinnable war. You have now entered history as a war criminal together with Stalin and Hitler.

2023 must be the year when Russia is forced to capitulate, one way or another.

Whatever it takes.

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Georges Ugeux

CEO at Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor Columbia Law School.